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October 31, 2004
On the surface there isn't much that would immediately warrant comparison between Asanka Gurusinha and Kumar Sangakkara, apart from their left-handedness, and that they bat at one-down. Gurusinha was a resolute, cussedly determined batsman, the kind for whom the word "anchor" might have been freely muttered.
He played at a time when Sri Lanka were still establishing themselves on the world stage, and in a sense, his combative and tenacious batting was as essential for, as it was a product of, the team's status. One of his last acts was to help guide his team home in the 1996 Lahore World Cup final - a game pivotal to the modern-day reincarnation of the Sri Lankans.
But just as Gurusinha embodied the most significant qualities of Sri Lanka pre-1996, so Sangakkara captures the mood of the current Sri Lankan era. On the field, he is a confident, almost brash presence. At times, as the South Africans will readily attest, he is abrasive too. The aggression courses through his batting as well, and where Gurusinha was almost dour in his batting, Sangakkara is an incorrigible stylist. He is wont to drive on one knee, and often for the cameras.
He brought up his seventh Test century today, his second against Pakistan after his double-hundred in the Asian Test Championship final in 2000, with a similar shot. He celebrated his hundred soon after with a delicious on-drive, one that highlighted his balance and also a less-noticed leg-side game.
Shed of the responsibilities of keeping - although he deputised for the injured Romesh Kaluwitharana in this game - he has been in stupendous form of late. Like Sanath Jayasuriya, he too now has 1000 runs for the calendar year (including two double-centuries) and, in ten Tests since the World Cup averages over 70 when he has played solely as a batsman. Tellingly, in seven Tests when he has combined both roles, his average has plummeted to 21. But often, as his on-field persona hints, he veers into an arrogant recklessness.
In the first innings here, in trying to assert his authority, he was out needlessly hooking. Today, although his was a restrained hand pockmarked with flashes of elegance, it was punctuated by irresponsibility. After levering the game away from the hosts, his careless swish at Naved-ul-Hasan not only opened the door for Pakistan, it also paved the way for Danish Kaneria to unleash his bag of tricks.
Kaneria came into Pakistan cricket when the search was on for the new wonder legspinner, and his debut series in December 2000 was preceded by ridiculous amounts of hype. Burdened by the legacy he was to inherit - that of the magical Abdul Qadir and impish Mushtaq Ahmed - he unsurprisingly failed as a raw and untried youngster.
After feasting on the likes of Bangladesh (34 wickets in five Tests) and unworried by ludicrous comparisons, he eventually began to fulfil the promise. In a magical spell against South Africa at Lahore he started to suggest that he could live up to that billing. Fresh from a successful county stint, he is now that most dangerous of species - the legspinner with confidence.
He is unusual among a breed that defies convention: what is, after all, a normal legspinner? Tall and gangly, although his frame has filled out a little, Kaneria's action is all freewheeling arms and often it looks ungainly. When he runs in the field, he can be Bambi-esque, but his height ensures that he can extract bounce - a valuable currency for any legspinner to possess - on most pitches. In addition, he has developed enviable control since his debut, and as he pinned down the Sri Lankans in a tireless spell between lunch and tea, he further hauled back their run rate, after dismissing Jayasuriya in the morning.
As much as the bounce and turn - and it can be substantial - it is his attitude that is heartening. He is permanently enthusiastic - sometimes overtly so, as he was when he appealed for a brief period on almost every ball - but he doesn't easily tire, mentally or physically. Every ball he sends down, you sense, he wants and expects a wicket, and if it doesn't come, then there is always the next ball. And many balls didn't conjure a wicket for him in the afternoon session, but he didn't lose heart. He knew perhaps that he could produce, as he did, a spell of three wickets in 26 balls after tea.
He may not have the variations, or the mystery about him, that Qadir or Mushtaq did, and he doesn't flight the ball as much either. But by leading a depleted and inexperienced attack in a game that needed something special from him, he not only put Pakistan on the brink of victory, he also proved that like them, he too can be a matchwinner. And maybe, just maybe, he can be a proud inheritor of a wonderful legacy.
Osman Samiuddin is a freelance journalist based in Karachi.
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